The Kings kept the curtain lowered at their practice facility Thursday, limiting visibility of their afternoon session, but as things wound down, a voice came through loudly over the squeak of sneakers on hardwood: “Get back! Stop the ball!”
Three days after a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans that exposed some of their defensive shortcomings, and ahead of tonight’s visit by the defending champion Miami Heat, the Kings reconvened Thursday for a practice that left coach Michael Malone in a better mood than when he last assessed his team Monday night.
Following that 113-100 loss, in which former Kings guard and noted driver Tyreke Evans met little resistance going to the basket for a big night, Malone voiced his frustration, saying the Kings are “a bad basketball team right now” and that he wants his team to take pride on defense.
With three days off before playing the Heat for the second time in a week, Malone opted for recuperation over reps and held practice only on Thursday, after which he praised the team’s effort.
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“We addressed some of the areas we have to continue to work on, starting with transition and pick-and-roll defense, one-on-one defense, offensive execution,” Malone said. “It’s a long list of things, but we came in and got good work in.”
High on that list, Malone said, is the need for more discipline on defense. On Monday, Evans was able to attack the basket en route to 25 points and 12 assists despite his reputation for struggling when forced to stay on the perimeter.
“We have to do a better job of understanding who we’re playing and how we’re trying to play to execute our coverages and guard guys on a one-on-one basis a lot better than we have in the first 20-something games of the season,” Malone said.
Through 27 games, the Kings have allowed 103.6 points a game, ahead of only Philadelphia (111.7) before Thursday’s games. Opponents are shooting 47.4 percent – also second-highest – and an NBA-best 40.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
While the Kings have cited a lack of practice time as detrimental, especially as they’ve dealt with turnover on their roster, relative newcomer Rudy Gay said Thursday the Kings need to adopt “a sense of urgency” on defense.
“That’s what defense is,” Gay said. “I don’t think it’s one thing we worked on (Thursday). I think it’s just getting back to the back-against-the-wall mentality.”
As for Malone’s comments after Monday’s game, Gay said, “It should have hit us all the same way. Of course he felt some sort of way about the way we played, ’cause we played terribly. Defensively, we were terrible.”
After the loss to New Orleans, Malone also said, “I guess we’ve got to get some better players to contain the basketball because right now we can’t.”
Thursday, he said he let his frustrations get the better of him.
“I still believe in this group. I really do,” Malone said. ‘I knew that this was going to be a process and it was going to be a struggle at times. I’m fully aware of that, and I’m ready for that.
“By their actions today, their attitude, their work ethic, their energy, I think everybody realizes that we’re all frustrated. I think the players are frustrated with where we’re at and how we’re losing. So we’re all in this together. There’s going to be no division from within.
“Like I said, I do believe in this group. I know what we’re capable of. We’ve shown it on a few occasions against good teams like Houston, Dallas, Phoenix in two games. The challenge now is to do it on a much more consistent basis.”